Citizens only: North Carolina Senate looks to clarify voting eligibility

By Katherine Zehnder

Raleigh, NC – As the short session fast approaches for the North Carolina General Assembly, an issue on the minds of every American this year is immigration. The North Carolina Senate has the opportunity to pass legislation that would close a loophole in the current language of the state constitution in which voting eligibility is too ambiguous when it comes to the eligibility of non-citizens. 

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In April of 2023, state Sens. Brad Overcash, Paul Newton, and Warren Daniel introduced a bill that would address the loophole via a ballot referendum allowing voters to vote on an amendment requiring citizenship to cast a ballot. Overcash told the Carolina Journal that the he does intend to bring this bill back up in the upcoming short session. 

“I think now’s as good a time as any and I absolutely think people will be in tune with us,” said Overcash. “I think your voters have the opportunity to go to the ballot box and make their say known on an issue that touches illegal immigration, which is […] very, very much top of mind, along with inflation, in the voters’ minds. I think they will. I don’t think they’ll be surprised, and I think they’d be delighted to have the opportunity to weigh in and change their constitution in that respect.”

This is the first time since 2019 that immigration has been the No. 1 issue in America according to a recent Gallup poll. According to the poll, 28% said that immigration is the most important problem right now, up only slightly from July 2019, when it sat at 27%. But that’s a considerably jump from the January 2024 poll in which it was the No. 2 issue at 20%. 

The new language, as presented on the ballot, would be: “Only a citizen of the United States who is 18 years of age and possessing the qualifications set out in this Article, shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people of the State, except as herein otherwise provided.”

“Every citizen of the United States and only a citizen of the United States…” is the language suggested by Dr. Andy Jackson, Director of the Center for Public Integrity at the John Locke Foundation, though he also approves the language that is proposed in SB 630. 

“[T]he state constitution is silent on whether noncitizens can vote,” wrote Dr. Jackson in a report last year. Statute currently bans non-citizen voting in North Carolina, but, hypothetically, a change in Party control in the General Assembly could open the door to gifting resident aliens the right to vote. 

But that’s not the only problem with the current language of the state constitution, warned Jackson. 

“[T]he current language excludes natural-born citizens who were born overseas,” Jackson wrote. “That group includes people like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (born in Canada), Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth (born in Thailand), and North Carolina singer and producer J. Cole (born in Germany).”

This could easily be remedied by the same language suggested by Dr. Jackson, closing the loophole for non-citizen voting. 

“The question of who can vote and who cannot is fundamental to our system of government,” Jackson told the Carolina Journal in an email. “So, our state constitution should state explicitly and unequivocally that voting rights in all state and local elections in North Carolina are limited to American citizens who are otherwise qualified to vote.” 

The effort to require citizenship for voting is in line with national efforts, as well. Recently, US House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-LA, introduced legislation to make proof of citizenship a legal requirement for casting a ballot. This legislation has also been endorsed by former president and 2024 Republican nominee Donald Trump. 

“Non-U.S. citizens are already banned from voting in federal elections now. However, the National Voter Registration Act—better known as the Motor Voter Law—doesn’t allow states to check because the federal forms already contain a check box,” reported the Daily Signal. 

Worries mount as the Southern border crisis worsens and evidence appears of certain activist groups encouraging illegal immigrants to ‘Vote for Biden to keep the border open.’ An advocacy group, Resource Center Matamoras (RCM), that lobbies US lawmakers, was found to be distributing flyers encouraging illegal immigrants to vote for President Biden. According to video footage obtained by The Oversight Project, a project of the Heritage Foundation, these flyers were found throughout Tamaulipas, Mexico, including on the inside walls of portable toilets.

“I think it’s probably a matter of time before something like this is necessary,” says Overcash. “We’ve seen it in other states where municipalities have gone down this road in allowing non-citizens to vote, and rather than waiting on the General Assembly to try to be reactive to something, let’s go ahead and put this issue before the voters let the people make that decision for us.” 

Senator’s Daniel and Newton’s offices did not respond to the Carolina Journal’s request for comment.